Sir Bradley Wiggins faced double disappointment after he failed to gain significant time on his key rival and new race leader Vincenzo Nibali on a crucial time trial stage of the Giro d’Italia, and an untimely puncture saw the Sky leader fall ten seconds short of beating Essex-born rider Alex Dowsett for the stage win.
Yesterday’s stage, a 54 kilometre individual time trial in eastern Italy, looked to be made for Wiggins, particularly given he won the Tour de France last year with his unquestioned superiority in such stages. And Sky had made no secret, either, that their strategy was for Wiggins to take the pink jersey of race leader yesterday (Saturday) and then defend it through the mountains to the finish.
Instead, with Wiggins already on the back foot after Friday’s highspeed downhill crash where he lost 84 seconds to the other leaders, although the Briton made a spectacular advance in the overall classification yesterday, from 23 to fourth overall, and is now 1-16 down on Nibali, Wiggins failed to come anywhere near netting the maglia rosa of race leader. And yesterday, on paper, was his best chance of doing so.
Then there was the added annoyance of not taking a stage victory - taken instead by ex-Sky rider Dowsett, now racing with Spanish team Movistar. Asked if he thought he would have won without the puncture, Wiggins uttered one word - ‘yes’ - before riding away from the press at the finish, clearly annoyed at a painfully near miss. But he had more regrets than just failing to take what would have been his first Giro stage win since the prologue back in 2010.
For all the course favoured the Briton, Wiggins could only distance Nibali - third in last year’s Tour and who has already beaten him in the Giro di Trentino warm-up race this spring - by a paltry 11 seconds. Given that the Sicilian allrounder had said he would gladly sign on the dotted line if he lost around two minutes to the Briton, to lose so little time and to instead come out of the time trial with a 29 second advantage over 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans and 76 second lead over Wiggins hardly constitutes a stinging defeat for Nibali
Sky put the blame for Wiggins near-defeat squarely on the puncture. The Briton’s repeated handwaving and riding on a slowly flatting tyre for nearly two kilometres indicated he knew that with every pedalstroke he was losing time on his rivals, and -as Sky pointed out - the incident also played havoc with his concentration.
“He would have beaten Dowsett, wouldn’t he?,” Sky’s performance manager Rod Ellingworth told reporters, “He’s alright but it was a bit of a shame that happened, he hit something on the road and it was two or two and a half kilometres before he realised something had happened.”
“He was going well, the puncture broke his rhythm, and it was hard to concentrate.”
However, Wiggins - who, with his memories of Friday’s crash fresh in the memory, also looked distinctly cautious on the twisting corners of the first section, then got into his element again on the flatter, second section. He was also by far the fastest rival on the third part of the course, a three kilometre uphill grind, which suggests that although his results have been very uneven this week, the underlying form could see him bounce back in the coming weeks.
“I think with the Giro, you’ve got to take it on the day by day,” Ellingworth continue, “there’s another time trial to come” - although as it is very mountainous, it should favour Nibali - “and a lot more racing.”
“You look at what’s happened to us in the past few days. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
With Sky’s team time trial win on the race’s opening weekend fast fading in significance and Wiggins yet to show the crushing superiority he had in every top stage race he disputed in 2012, rather than the Olympic champion taking Britain’s first individual time trial victory in the Giro since David Millar in 2011, that honour went to Dowsett.
Having started more than three hours before Wiggins and Nibali, the 24-year-old former British national time trial champion had an interminable wait before he could be sure that his first Grand Tour victory was in the bag.
“Sitting in the ‘hot seat’ [of provisional stage winner] for so long was far harder to take than doing the time trial itself,” said Dowsett, whose win yesterday was a reminder - amongst other things - that being diagnosed a hemophiliac when he was an 18-month-year-old is no obstacle to racing successfully in cycling.
Dowsett identified both Nibali and Wiggins as two riders that could have ousted him from victory, but that whilst Wiggins had suffered more than expected in the hillier first section, Nibali had failed to follow up his strong performance early on in the flatter second part of the course. But whilst the Giro is now effectively Nibali’s to lose, Wiggins will have to step up his game in the mountains if he wants to have any chance of taking Britain’s first ever victory in cycling’s second most important stage race.Reuse content